Ocean’s 8 has more A-list actresses than virtually any film in Hollywood history, but its stars say it’s time they demanded more equality behind the scenes.
With countless box office smashes to their names and a best actress Oscar in each of their trophy cabinets, Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are Hollywood veterans.
“Old. We’re old. Is that what you’re saying?”
It’s one of many answers Blanchett delivers with a glint in her eye while speaking to BBC News, seated next to her co-star.
But, she adds, the pair’s latest movie is unlike any other she’s starred in recently.
“In my career, I’ve only ever made one other film with an all-female cast, and that was the first film I ever made, called Paradise Road,” she says. “So this is a very rare occurrence.”
Ocean’s 8 topped the US box office last weekend and has had mostly positive reviews – but one criticism it received is that it’s simply jumping on the back of a male franchise.
Speaking to the BBC last year, film critic Rhianna Dillon pointed out: “They could’ve just done a fantastic heist movie with women, and not have anything to do with Ocean’s anything.
“It’s frustrating that they always seem to have to piggyback off a male franchise to make any headway.”
I suggest to Blanchett maybe an original film could’ve been made instead.
“Absolutely! Bring it on,” she replies. But, she goes on to defend the thinking behind Ocean’s 8.
“When someone has an idea they’re really passionate about, as [director] Gary Ross did, he saw Sandy [Bullock] at the centre of this story, and I thought, ‘Wow, can that work? That’s got a lot of chutzpah that idea’.
“And when he listed the women he wanted to put together, he was so passionate about it, you think, ‘Great, go and make that’.
“[The film] doesn’t say, ‘Only make extensions of franchises men have been in’. This film cannot stand for every single film.
“It’s when you have a cornucopia of female-driven narratives on screen that things are really healthy and exciting.”
Mindy Kaling, another of the new Ocean’s crew, admits: “Franchise fatigue is something a lot of people have.”
But, she adds: “There are lots of things, like the remake of Picnic At Hanging Rock [which] is affording so many roles for women, so I think it’s hard to look a gift horse in the mouth when it’s giving you so many opportunities.”
So, given the main cast is female, what was the gender split like in the crew?
“Very male,” replies Blanchett instantly.
“Costume designer was female,” Bullock adds.
Representation behind the camera is an issue Blanchett has been personally monitoring for some time.
“I’ve been doing this thing on every film set I’ve been on in the last few years, and having stepped away to run a theatre company for 10 years, I’ve come back, and all those clapper loaders who were women, they’re not [camera] operating. They’re not lighting,” she says.
“But all the clapper loaders who were men are operating and lighting. And so the career trajectory for the female members in the crew is [limited]… I’m very passionate about that.”
“I think it’s part of what Frances McDormand was saying about inclusion riders.”
McDormand called for inclusion riders – clauses in film contracts which stipulate there must be equality among cast and crew – when she accepted this year’s best actress Oscar.
Blanchett and Bullock begin riffing off each other as they make clear how strongly they feel about this issue.
Cate: “I’ve always been quite proactive in things I can do as an actress in trying to wrestle with the character and subvert expectations and female cliches. But I’ve been very polite about what I ask for on set. And I think now, it’s like, you know what?…”
Sandra: “Stop being polite.”
Cate: “We need this proportion of men to women on crews.”
Sandra: “And also diversity. In terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation.”
Cate: “It’s not just to make women happy for a small moment in time.”
Sandra: “God forbid.”
Cate: “It’s a much more creative way to work.”
Asked about the same issue later, Kaling says: “I do agree with the spirit of what Frances is saying, there’s a lot of under-looked people, specifically women, in crews.”
But fellow Ocean’s 8 star Sarah Paulson cautions: “I think whomever is best suited for the job is who should be hired, always.”
Paulson is no stranger to films but arguably made her name on TV, and last year won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role in The People vs OJ Simpson.
“There was a time where nobody wanted to do television, it was just a bunch of dodos, and it was like, ‘You can’t get any film work huh? Going over to TV? Aww, I’m sorry’,” she remembers.
“And now I feel like very accomplished people in the film world know that where the storytelling is, where the writing is, where the roles are, tend to be in television right now.”
Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are among the stars of the big screen to have recently made the leap to TV, as the leads in HBO’s Big Little Lies. Meryl Streep is joining the show for the second season.
But, Paulson laughs, “I’m like, this was my place, and now like I can’t compete when Meryl Streep is doing Big Little Lies, like, what’s going to be left for me?! Nothing. Maybe we can go be the movie stars!”
Bullock agrees: “I honestly feel the Netflix world, the streaming world, is influencing the quality of films.
“Films are losing people to the streaming world, and I think we now need to step up our game in the film industry in order to keep an audience.”
Ocean’s 8 is released in the UK on Monday.